Another First….TopGolf

Yesterday we tried our hand at TopGolf! What a great concept. You do not have to be a golfer to play and anyone – young or old – can have a go. The venue is well set up with a  relaxed atmosphere – you can play as much as you like with unlimited balls available, or you can sit back and be waited upon, enjoying a drink or two and a meal or snack. There is also an indoor bar and restaurant if you prefer.

We went to our “local” TopGolf in Allen (a northern outer suburb of Dallas, about 45 minutes away). There are 3 levels of covered playing bays, with each bay set up with lounges, table, golf clubs and a storage area for your own clubs if you choose to bring them and your own teeing off area. The ‘outfield’ is set out with dart-board like targets set into the ground. There are a variety of games you can play, but the main game centers around trying to hit the ball into the targets; the further you hit the microchipped ball and the closer to the center of the target, the more points you get. A computerised score board displayed on a television screen will keep track of everyone’s scores.

Keeping score

Keeping score

Andrew addressing the golf ball!

Andrew addressing the golf ball!

I am no golfer, yet I really enjoyed myself and this would be a great social event for a small group of friends (you can have up to 6 people in a bay). I think we will certainly go again! Maybe next time we can drag along some friends. 🙂

Pickleball anyone?

Today I finally got back to the gym after little more than a week of not feeling too good. I must admit, I did miss it and could feel myself sort-of ‘withering’; (I did lose 1-2kg’s though), but I feel much better after making the effort – a Pilate’s class today. I must also admit, I have been missing Pickleball! Up until the week before last, I was playing 45minutes of Pickleball each weekday morning. However, my faithful Pickleball companion is off enjoying Hawaii at the moment for 3 weeks on holidays (the hide of her, right?) and I haven’t been able to get to the gym the past week anyway, so I have missed out.

I’m guessing most of you probably haven’t heard of Pickleball. And I know that in Australia it is rare, and it certainly wasn’t in Newcastle last time I was there.

So, let me catch you up on Pickleball.

A Pickleball paddle

A Pickleball paddle

Pickleball is a relatively new sport and was invented in 1965. It’s lots of fun and it’s not hard to play. Pickleball is pretty much a cross between tennis, badminton and Ping-Pong. It can be played with 2 to 4 players, indoors or out, but we play on an indoor court at the local gym. The court is roughly 1/3 the size of a basketball court (badminton sized) and is marked in a similar pattern to a tennis court, with a tennis-like net across the middle. You play with a large plastic ball with holes in it (a bit like an over-sized practice golf ball) and a paddle that is shaped a bit like a tennis racket (but smaller and without the long neck). There are rules, but when we play, we don’t play according to them; we just like to have a hit and are in it for the fun and exercise (as evidenced by the short video clip below). But we do work up a sweat when we play!

The above clip shows Carla and Becky ‘playing’ Pickleball. (The court is marked by the yellow tape – which is overlaid over the basketball court).

There are those who are very serious about the sport: there are many organisations, and tournaments are held throughout the country; just recently there was a competition held locally.

Next week I hope to get a few hits in before Becky gets back the week after next and we can resume regular playing again!

Who knows – I may have to introduce Newcastle to this fun sport when I return! 🙂

Public Transport? Not here!

So, I have been stuck at home for a couple of days without the car (we only have the one and Andrew needed it this week). This got me thinking about public transport and how different it is here to what I have seen in other parts of the country and to what I am used to in Australia.

The Texoma area is seriously lacking in any form of public transport! There are no Taxi’s in Sherman; nor is there a regular public bus service (aside from the school buses) and no passenger trains at all. This is very different to say, New York, where those iconic yellow taxis outnumber regular cars and where just about everyone rides the subway. But, let’s not forget that this is not a big city and it is not that close to one either. Dallas (an hour away) does have buses and a light rail service, but it services essentially the main metroplex area.

I was used to a bus service where the closest stop was perhaps 200m from home and ran to a regular timetable, with designated stops and destinations (and a train station located a stones throw away). I was also fortunate enough to live within walking distance to just about everything I needed. Not so here. When we first arrived I thought I would be able to catch a bus if I ever had a need to, but the local bus service operates more like a shuttle service. You need to book a ride 24hrs beforehand, so you need to be organised and plan ahead (this is probably great for the elderly who need to get to doctors appointments, etc.). However, this still strikes me as a little odd, I thought a regular route with specified destinations and designated pickup spots and times would work well, but it seems not.

You might think the alternative would be to walk or ride a bike – but this really would be taking your life into your own hands! The road we live on is a 2 lane 55mph (~90kph) speed limit road with no curb and guttering and in places, no shoulder, just a guard rail. So, I am not keen on taking on the traffic that at times seems to fly by.

It is very rarely that you see someone riding a bike or walking along roadways here. In fact, most people rely on their cars and drive here – even the shortest of distances; where I would normally walk, you would hop in the car and drive. So perhaps the demand is just not there for a regular bus service or a taxi service.

It is interesting how towns and cities develop and I guess that includes their transport needs and systems as well.

For the Birds……

I love learning new things. And this weekend I leant some interesting facts about the local birdlife in Texas. This, in turn led me to think about the birdlife of my home country, and how considerably different it is from where I am living at present. So, I thought I would share with y’all what I learned.

We were at another pool party/ film night this past Saturday and while there we got onto discussing birds (the flying, feathered variety)*. While relaxing in the pool before the movie, we noticed a flock of chimney swifts overhead. Chimney swifts are swallow-like, with very long, narrow, curved wings. Australia doesn’t have any chimney swifts – they are only found in the Americas and nor do we have many of the other common birds we see around here. * NB. Women (particularly young and attractive ones) are often colloquially referred to as ‘birds’ in Australia.

Barn Swallow (and nest built on a fire sprinkler head next door to us).

Barn Swallow (and nest built on a fire sprinkler head next door to us).

For example,  we regularly see the barn swallow (they are very common where we live with many nesting around the apartment building we live in). The barn swallow is apparently rarely seen in Australia, but we do have the Welcome Swallow, which is very similar.

However, what really prompted me to write this post was the mockingbird (I wish I had a photo, but, alas, I do not – here is a link to a nice picture though).

When we sit out on our balcony, we often hear a bird that can produce many a different variety of calls and songs – it has quite a repertoire; we asked a friend about it (who happens to be a Professor of Biology and the Dean of Sciences at Austin College) and he told us it was a mockingbird – this seems so obvious now!If you would like to hear a Mockingbird – check out these 2 YouTube links: Mockingbird sounds or Mockingbird Song Serenade. Mockingbirds aren’t in Australia (or at least not as far as I know). They are very clever birds and just happen to be the state bird of Texas! Mockingbirds are fairly non-descript and are dull grey in colour with white patches on their wings and tail which are visible when they fly.

Actually most of the bird life here seems to lack any remarkable colour; so different to the birdlife of Australia (although,, we do have our share of dull looking birds). There are a lot of birds with some wonderful colour in Australia, particularly our parrots. For example:

Crimson Rosella

Crimson Rosella

A Galah

A Galah

Finally, I must make a confession: While I can really appreciate the beauty and majesty of most birds, they are not my favourite type of animal. I generally am a bit “flightly” around them myself – they make me nervous. Now this is largely due to an encounter with many lorikeets at a bird sanctuary (being thrust amongst them during a feeding frenzy – at least that’s how I see it) when I was a small child, which I apparently found terrifying – the scars are now reasonably well hidden, but they are still there and birds still have the power to scare me! Crazy, I know! 🙂 

4th of July post-script

About that pool party we were invited to…

Last Saturday night, July 4th, we went to a pool party at a friends place. The idea is everyone brings a plate to accompany the meat dish put on by our hosts (this week it was gourmet sausages on the BBQ) and we sit outside by the pool, eat, drink and afterwards watch a movie. Of course, there is also swimming in the pool at anytime (and I was in – the water was beautiful)!

I decided to take along a traditional Aussie dessert (a pavlova) and Americanised it!

My American Pavlova!

My American Pavlova!

This was the first time I had made a ‘pav’ that wasn’t circular and definitely the first time I decorated one red, white and blue in a stylised American flag! It seemed to be a hit and was well received; I did receive a few compliments.

All in all – it was a great night!

And the movie we watched? It was Independence Day – naturally! 🙂

Independence Day – July 4th – Let’s Celebrate!

Firstly – a quick note – this post was supposed to upload Friday July 3rd – however I have been experiencing some major server issues – so apologies for being a bit late! I hope you enjoy this post anyway.

This weekend is the 4th of July weekend – celebrating Independence Day – probably the biggest holiday celebration in the US and the city of Sherman kicked it off last night with a big party at a local park where there was live music, food, activities and of course the fireworks display.

OK, so the 4th of July is a big deal in the US. It is day of immense national pride celebrating freedom and liberty. It is traditionally a big weekend full of family, food, sporting events, parades and, of course, fireworks! Last night (Thursday 2nd July) we watched a spectacular display from our balcony. Tomorrow we are off to a 4th of July pool party!

The American Eagle (this one sits on the entrance to the main building at Ellis Island )

The American Eagle (this one sits on the entrance to the main building at Ellis Island)

Technically, the 4th of July marks the anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, which proclaimed the United States independence from Great Britain on that date in 1776. Independence Day was born from the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783), also known as the American War of Independence or the Revolutionary War, between Great Britain and 13 of it’s former North American colonies, which had declared themselves the independent United States of America. The war had its roots in Americans resistance to taxes imposed by the British parliament, which ultimately resulted in the Boston Tea Party. This war also pulled in France, Spain and the Netherlands who all aligned themselves with the American colonies.

Declaration of Independence

Declaration of Independence

When the revolutionary war broke out in 1775, there were few colonists that wanted complete independence from Great Britain. However, by the middle of the following year hostility towards Britain was growing and more came to favour the idea of independence. When congress met in June of 1776, Richard Lee introduced a motion calling for the colonies’ independence. The vote was postponed, but a five-man committee consisting of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Roger Sherman, Benjamin Franklin and Robert R. Livingston was formed to draft a formal statement justifying the break with Great Britain. On July 2nd 1776, Congress voted (in a near-unanimous vote) in favour of Lee’s resolution and on July 4th, formally adopted the Declaration of Independence (which had been written largely by Jefferson). Some believe that July 2nd is truly Independence Day, with John Adams at the time declaring that July 2nd  “will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival” and should include “Pomp and Parade…Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other.”

It wasn’t until 1870 that Congress declared July 4th a federal holiday.

A note on fireworks in the USA: Regulations governing the sale of Fireworks vary widely from state to state (and even county to county), and include not only the types of fireworks, but also when fireworks may be sold. In Texas, you can let off fireworks year-round, but there are only 2 occasions throughout the year when you can legally purchase fireworks; June 24 to midnight July 4 and December 20 to midnight of Jan 1.

Generally speaking fireworks are illegal in Australia. Sparklers are allowed, but anything that is airborne or explodes you would need a special licence for.

So, Happy 239th Birthday America!